The preface to “The Road to Serfdom” includes a short anecdote about Margaret Thatcher. Upon taking over as British prime minister in 1979, says the the Austrian-born economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek in his book, she convened a meeting over the kingdom’s economic policy under her rule. Others around the table were still toying with the notion of persisting with the disgraced Keynesian model. Whipping a copy of Hayek’s book out of her handbag, Thatcher declared her own economic policy. Later she would famously be coined the “Iron Lady” and go down in history as an excellent leader by virtue of her policy of economic and political independence.
Some decades later, over in Israel, a country that still meddles mightily in the lives of its people, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked presented the theories of another proponent of independence, Milton Friedman, as the basis of her own credo, while delivering an edifying speech about the substance of freedom and liberty and how they are stifled by our own legislators through overzealous legislation.
That same week, a member of Knesset representing Likud, Sharren Haskel, expressed similar sentiments when spearheading opposition to a bill imposing tax on owners of three homes or more. The bill is the brainchild of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Some days later, she spoke up in favor of abolishing agricultural councils, a notion fated to trigger a fight that past and present ministers have avoided. Haskel is less experienced than Shaked, but she seems to choose her moves well.
With these remarks, Shaked and Haskel positioned themselves as politicians with liberal values when it comes to the free market and freedom of thought, values that many among the public are starved for, especially given the populist, superficial socioeconomic debate that spread among politicans following the social-justice protests that began in 2011 over the cost of living in Israel. Among the voters on the left, this populist discourse is accepted and isn’t even considered to be shallow, but it grates when it comes from the right. In recent years, many voters on the right find themselves repelled by some of the things said by their elected representatives, and wonder where the values of freedom propounded by Friedman and Hayek have gone. They don’t really care whether behind these statements stands a man or a woman.
Beyond the evident importance of the steps Shaked and Haskel are taking, without ever meaning to and without taking pride in it, they managed to create the best sort of feminist culture: women with healthy mindsets whose political moves break ground for other female politicians, and for women in general in Israeli society. Their future success relies on their talents, not their gender.
On the other hand, there are female politicians who cheapen the battle for equality between men and women by changing the Hebrew language, such as Merav Michaeli from the Zionist Union, or by contorting every topic until it’s about gender. Hillary Clinton, for example, constantly says that if she gets elected, finally there will be a female president. Tzipi Livni’s post about the obsessing with Clinton’s health, claiming a man wouldn’t be getting that kind of coverage, is insulting. Sometimes it seems that the inability to promote ideas among the general public leads some women to cling to the feminist agenda almost as a sanctuary.
Clinton’s stumble was covered widely for a great many reasons, including the suspicion that her campaign has a credibility gap, and the fact that the health of presidential candidates was extensively dwelled upon beforehand. None of these reasons had to do with her being female.
Some women are natural politicians. Britain has Theresa May, who succeeded David Cameron; the Germans have Angela Merkel, whose reign continued unchallenged until very recently. These are women (both from the right wing, note) who bring ideas and brandish the flag of righteous struggle that anybody can identify with, irrespective of their gender.
If in Israel too, the women in politics learn to stick to values that the public is yearning for, and to embark on the right battles, then maybe we too can advance the status of woman. Who knows, one day we might even have a Thatcher of our own.
The author is head of the Blue & White Human Rights organization, an arm of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.
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